2018 BNP Paribas Open Men’s Doubles Preview

BNPDUBS18

Doubles Race Takes Shape in Indian Wells

The next month is set to shape the doubles race on the ATP World Tour with stops in Indian Wells and Miami. Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic are still atop the rankings with almost a 1500 point cushion. Masters 1000 points could quickly change that or see Marach-Pavic run further away. They head to Indian Wells as the third seeds and making their debut together at the BNP Paribas Open. Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo slot in at #1 in this week’s draw. They lost last year’s Indian Wells final to Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram, who are no longer partnered up. The second seeds are Henri Kontinen and John Peers. Kontinen-Peers has yet to find much luck in 2018 as they come in ranked 21st. Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares round out the top four seeds. They come in fresh of winning the Acapulco titles and will be looking to improve on their semifinal run in 2017.

Rounding out the seeds in this year’s Indian Wells doubles draw are Pierre Hugues-Herbert and Nicolas Mahut at #5. The French duo won the titles in 2016, but were outsted in round two last year. The sixth seeds are Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau. They are just 2-4 as a tandem at Indian Wells, but did make the quarters last season. They’ve rocketed to fifth in the rankings and come in with the Dubai titles in their pockets. The Bryans come in at #7 as two-time winners here, but haven’t made it past the quarterfinals since winning their last Indian Wells title in 2014. The 8th seeds are Ivan Dodig and Rajeev Ram, a first time pairing at this event. This will be their fourth tournament together in 2018. They have made the semifinals of their last two.

Recent History Shows Top Seeds Struggle

The Bryan Brothers’ last title run at the BNP Paribas Open marks the last time that the top seed has been as far as the semifinals at this event. The top four seeds have had a habit of finding themselves as early upset victims the last few years. Last year, the Bryans were seeded second and lost their opener. In both 2015 and 2016, two of the top four seeds followed suit with round one defeats. Amazingly, if you track all the way back to 2006, there has only been one year where a top four seed has not fallen in their opener.

Let’s take a quick glance at the top four seeds this year and which ones might be in danger of joining that trend. (1) Kubot-Melo will battle Roberto Bautista Agut and David Ferrer in round one. Don’t dismiss the Spaniards as a random pair up, they’ve played together nine times the last two seasons, going 6-3. One of those losses as a straight sets whipping by Kubot-Melo at last year’s event in Halle on grass. Kubot-Melo have cooled off after a hot start, going 2-2 in their last two tournaments. I would not be surprised if they had to work a super tie break to escape round one and RBA-Ferrer certainly are capable of causing an upset.

The second seeds, Kontinen-Peers, will obviously be the ones many are watching and expecting to flop. Since making the Brisbane final, they are 1-2 with stunning losses at the Australian Open to Radu Albot and Hyeon Chung and then last week in their opener in Dubai to Damir Dzumhir and Filip Krajinovic. They draw Adrian Mannarino and Fabrice Martin in round one. The Frenchmen haven’t played together since 2015, but both have experience. Martin is a regular doubles player at the ATP level. Still, even with Kontinen-Peers struggling a bit, this would be a real shocker. I think the seeds fend off the challenge in this spot.

Marach-Pavic arrive as the third seeds with a little of their luster worn off. They have lost two of three since their 17 match winning streak to start the season ended. Neither was a poor loss, but they will want to find that winning feeling again early. They start against Steve Johnson and Daniel Nestor. Johnson-Nestor played once last year and were overwhelmed by Ryan Harrison and Michael Venus in Cincinnati. Nestor has been switching partners about every week with little success at 3-8 this season. It’s difficult to see Johnson-Nestor winning this match against a team with better chemistry.

That leaves us with the fourth seeds, Murray and Soares. They open against the pairing of Philipp Petzschner and Dominic Thiem. Murray-Soares have been pretty consistent at 10-3 in 2018 with two finals appearances out of the four tournaments played. Petzschner and team have never played together, but once upon a time, Petzschner was one of the top doubles players along with Jurgen Melzer before injuries stonewalled Petzschner. The German is a two-time Grand Slam champ, having won the U.S. Open titles with Melzer in 2011 and Wimbledon in 2010. He won his 7th doubles title in Bastad last season alongside Julian Knowle. Thiem hasn’t had a ton of doubles success the last couple of years, but his matches are often very close. This is the one that sticks in my brain as a possibility, even if it seems a bit far fetched.

If I had to rate them in order of best shot at losing round one: I’d go 2-4-1-3.

Doubles Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Kubot-Melo
(8) Dodig-Ram

Breakdown
There are some dangerous floaters in this section that could definitely help continue the top seed curse. If Kubot-Melo survive Bautista Agut and Ferrer in round one, round two could be just as tough. They play the winners of Albert Ramos-Vinolas and Fernando Verdasco vs John Isner and Jack Sock. Isner-Sock are 11-3 in the last two seasons with a title in Shanghai in 2016 and a finals appearance in Beijing last year. I’d rate them the tougher out of the two. In the bottom of this quarter with Dodig-Ram as the seeds, the winner of an opening round barn burner between Raven Klaasen/Michael Venus vs Juan-Sebastian Cabal/Robert Farah loom as big threats.

Klaasen-Venus seem to have finally gelled together after winning the titles in Marseille. They did lose in the quarters in Dubai last week, but are 5-1 in their last six matches after a 2-3 start to their partnership. Cabal-Farah are 9-4 and showed they are hard court threats with their run to the Aussie Open final. They don’t have a ton of experience surprisingly at Indian wells despite their lengthy partnership, so Klaasen-Venus might be the team two watch. Dodig-Ram start against Ben McLachlan and Julio Peralta. Two good doubles players, but they’ve never played together before this week. So edge to Dodig-Ram.

The Pig-nosticator

I think it’s safe bet that one or both of the two seeds here won’t see the quarterfinals. I think Dodig-Ram might actually be the safer shot to squeeze through this quarter. I won’t be surprised at all to see an unseeded team make a run out of this bracket and into the semifinals. An unseeded duo has made the semifinals each of the last four years. Look to the survivor of that Klaasen-Venus v Cabal-Farah match as a good shot to join that club.

Quarter #2 Seeds
(3) Marach-Pavic
(6) Rojer-Tecau

Breakdown
Marach-Pavic should get out of round one against Johnson-Nestor, but round two could have a huge speed bump in their way. Nikola Mektic and Alexander Peya look to be the probable team in that spot. Mektic-Peya open with Fabio Fognini and Aisam Ul-Haq Qureshi. I won’t totally discount an upset there, but chemistry is better with the regular pairing of Mektic-Peya. Mektic-Peya have made two finals this year and beat Marach-Pavic in Acapulco last week. Revenge may be on the minds of the third seeds, but that won’t be an easy match at all.

The bottom half with Rojer-Tecau is interesting. The seeds here come in hot after winning in Dubai, but they haven’t had a ton of success here outside of their 2017 quarterfinal run. They open with a mish mosh pairing of Ryan Harrison and Max Mirnyi. Having lost in the first round two of their last three trips to the desert, watch out for the big serves of Harrison and Mirnyi to potentially add to their wores. The survivor gets either Juan Martin Del Potro and Grigor Dimitrov of the Lopezes, Marc and Feliciano. Team Lopez made the semis in 2016, but lost in round one last year. They lost their opener in two of four tournaments this year and despite the lack of playing together, DelPo and Dimitrov could be tricky.

The Pig-nosticator

Marach-Pavic have the motivation and could get back on a roll if they exact some revenge on Mektic-Peya along the way. Rojer-Tecau could be the sneaky pick here if they avoid the upset in round one. That’s the big question mark for them. Mektic-Peya is the unseeded threat for sure in this quarter.

Quarter #3 Seeds
(4) Murray-Soares
(5) Herbert-Mahut

Breakdown
Murray-Soares have the tougher path to the quarterfinals. If they get out of round one against Petzschner-Thiem, they could face Rohan Bopanna and Eduoard Roger-Vasselin. Bopanna-ERV have yet to break out at 6-6 this season, but they’ve made two semifinals this year and rarely been an easy out. Bopanna-ERV will need to skirt past Gilles Muller and Sam Querrey in round one and that may be a tight match. In the Herbert-Mahut half, the French have Dzumhur-Krajinovic to contend with in round one. Look no further than their win over Kontinen-Peers to show that the French need to be on point from ball one.

The winner of that first rounder gets either Pablo Cuevas and Horacio Zeballos or Nicolas Monroe and Santiago Gonazalez. Cuevas-Zeballos are solid veteran duo with experience and while Monroe and Gonzalez are teaming up for the first time, both are solid doubles guys with track records of winning with multiple partners. Either one could provide a tough test in round two for either Herbert-Mahut or Dzumhur-Krajinovic. This part of the draw could blow wide open if a seed falls early.

The Pig-nosticator

I think this one could fall to a seed vs seed scenario in the quarterfinals. Both teams do have some pitfalls early though. I think Murray-Soares would be the likelier to not get to the quarters because of Bopanna-ERV. That’s my unseeded team to watch in this quarter with Cuevas-Zeballos also a dark horse team.

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Kontinen-Peers
(7) Bryans

Breakdown
Kontinen-Peers have a lot to prove during this Indian Wells-Miami swing. They’re off to a sluggish start and this swing has not been good to them during their previous two seasons together. As such, I don’t think they’ll be involved in the mix for a semifinal slot. They may escape round one against Mannarino-Martin. Round two would see either Diego Schwartzman and Marcus Daniell or Philipp Kohlschreiber and Lucas Pouille. Those are mix and match first time teams, but all with players who are pretty decent at doubles. I mean I have a hard time picking a team here to beat Kontinen-Peers based on talent and teamwork, but they just have not found their groove. I’d say IF they get past the French in round one, then perhaps they can work to the quarters.

It’s an all-brothers showdown in round one with the Bryans taking on the Zverevs, Mischa and Alexander. The Bryans got in a nice groove in Acapulco with a finals run and I think that carries over to start this week. A win would then likely get them a date against Pablo Carreno Busta and David Marrero. The Spaniards open against Kyle Edmund and Franko Skugor. PCB-Marrero do have some history together, but their best results have come on clay. Edmund is 1-10 all-time in ATP doubles matches, so even with a good partner like Skugor, tough to see them winning.

The Pig-nosticator

I think this quarter sets up nicely for the Bryans. The intrigue could come if Kontinen-Peers find some rhythm and we get an all-seeded quarterfinal. Kontinen-Peers have owned the Bryans with a 3-0 head-to-head record, including not dropping any sets against the American twins. That would be the big road block for the 7th seeds.

AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO ….

Your last three men’s doubles champions have been seeded 6th, 7th and 8th. 2012 was the last time an unseeded pair took home the titles with Marc Lopez and Nicolas Mahut doing the honors in an all-unseeded final against John Isner and Sam Querrey. If there is some unseeded magic this week, I think the mix of potential dark horses include Klaasen-Venus, Cabal-Farah and Mektic-Peya. My brain though is stuck on the Bryans this week, who haven’t won a title since last summer in Atlanta. If a top four seed breaks the curse, Marach-Pavic seem to have the best road in my estimation.

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2018 Abierto Mexicano Telcel Preview

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Rafa’s Return Highlights 2018 Field in Acapulco

It’s the fifth year for the Abierto Mexicano Telcel to be contested on hard courts after being played on clay for the first 20 years of its existence. Rafael Nadal is scheduled to return to the court this week after missing about a month due to a hip injury suffered at the Australian Open. I don’t believe Nadal for a minute, when he says he isn’t concentrating on retaking the top spot in the rankings after after Roger Federer scooted past him earlier in the month. I do believe him when he says he is simply focused on this tournament first though. Nadal will also be hoping to gain a bit of revenge for losing last year’s final to Sam Querrey. Rafa is the top seed in what is a very loaded field, maybe more dangerous even with players who are not seeded.

Rounding out the top four are Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem and Jack Sock. Zverev makes his debut in Acapulco and Sock lost his opener in his lone visit to the tournament last year. Thiem has the most experience of this group with a title here in 2016. Thiem is 7-1 in two trips to Mexico, making the quarterfinals last year. Among the rest of the seeds, it’s 7th seed Sam Querrey who has had a surprisingly good run of luck in Acapulco. The defending champion also made the semis in 2016.

The other players in the seeded field are #5 Kevin Anderson, a finalist in 2014, sixth seed Juan Martin Del Potro and 8th seeded John Isner. Del Potro has never advanced past round two, while Isner is winless in two trips since the tournament flipped to hard courts. Seeds have usually been a big part of the championship mix in Acapulco with Querrey’s title run last year as an unseeded player as the only one since 2014. The top seed has had the most difficult time here with just one finals appearance in four years, a loss by Kei Nishikori in 2015.

Multiple seeds have lost their openers in Acapulco in three of the last four years since the hard court switch. With that to chew on, let’s look at this week’s Eliminati.

ELIMINATI

Ernesto Escobedo
It’s difficult not to put Jack Sock on this list these days. Yes, he did avoid his third straight one and done in Delray Beach last week, but he’s still just 1-3 on the season. Sock has lost his opening match in six of his last eleven tournaments dating back to Cincinnati alst summer. Escobedo shook off a retirement in Delray Beach qualies last week to get through qualifying in Acapulco. This is his third main draw that he has qualified for in 2018 with New York marking his best result as he made round two. They’ve never met, but this might be interesting given Sock’s struggles.

Radu Albot
I think you have to give Albot a slight shot to take down Kevin Anderson in round one. The Moldovian has played some big servers tight this season, beating John Isner once and taking him to three sets last week in Delray Beach. He also lost in three to Jiri Vesely in Auckland earlier in the season. Albot also put together a decent effort in losing in three to Kei Nishikori in New York in the quarterfinals. Anderson might be in better form than all of those combined, coming in off the New York title – but he’s had a difficult time putting opponents away in straight sets. Seven of his nine matches have gone the distance this year.

Ryan Harrison
Harrison draws John Isner who is just 1-4 this season. He did get win #1 last week in Delray Beach. Isner owns a 5-2 advantage in the head-to-head with Harrison, but they have split their only two meetings in the last two years. Four of the five sets played in those matches went to tie breaks, so there is a small margin for error for Isner. Harrison has had problems topping big servers this year with his losses coming to Nick Kyrgios, Marin Cilic, Ivo Karlovic and Reilly Opelka. Something has to give here and considering Isner’s 0-fer in Acapulco, Harrison could fancy his chances to get a rare win over Big John.

Steve Johnson
The American got some much needed wins in Delray Beach last week, making his first ATP semifinal since making the Houston final last April. He opens against Alexander Zverev who was a disappointing round of 16 loser to Andreas Seppi in Rotterdam when was last saw him. Sascha has played just two tournaments this year with the Davis Cup win over Australia arguably being his best tennis this season. Johnson beat Sascha at the Miami Open in 2016 in two tie break sets in their only previous match. The American’s previous experience in this tournament in conditions could be an advantage here, so keep Sascha on upset alert.

Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds 
(1) Rafael Nadal: 4-1 (record in Acapulco on hard court)
(7) Sam Querrey: 9-2

Breakdown
Nadal gets a familiar face to open with Feliciano Lopez. Lopez surprisingly has won their last two meetings, both coming on outdoor hard courts. The last came in 2015 in Cincinnati. Overall, Rafa is 9-4 against Lopez. Lopez is just 1-2 in two trips to Acapulco. Given Rafa’s time off, it’s easy to think Lopez will at least push Nadal in his opener. The winner takes on the survivor between qualifier Alexander Bublik and Thanasi Kokkinakis. Kokkinakis is again an injury question mark after pulling out of the Morelos Challenger in the semifinals due to an ankle injury. That could give the 20-year-old Bublik a chance to score his first ATP level win in 2018. In either case, as long as Rafa shakes off any rust – he looks a good shot for the quarterfinals at minimum.

The bottom half features the defending champ Querrey and he opens against Matthew Ebden. Querrey is 2-0 in his career against the Aussie and should have a shot to get out of the gates with a win. Round two would pit him against either Jared Donaldson or Nikoloz Basilashvili. Donaldson won both meetings with Basilashvili on hard courts last year. The American has dropped his opening match in his last two tournaments however and that makes this close to a 50-50 call. Querrey is a combined 4-0 against Donaldson/Basilashvili and will be confident of beating either one. This quarter could play out to a Nadal-Querrey repeat from 2017.

Quarter #2 Seeds
(4) Jack Sock: 0-1
(5) Kevin Anderson: 7-2

Breakdown
Sock will look to avoid the early upset against Escobedo. The winner gets Hyeon Chung or Donald Young. Chung returned to the court in Delray Beach after recovering from his Australian Open blisters. He made the quarterfinals and will be looking to establish himself more solidly this week. Young lost their only previous encounter on clay and has lost his opener in five of his last six tournaments played. Chung has a legit shot to squeeze through this top portion and be in the quarterfinals. Sock would likely prefer Young whom he has beaten three out of three meetings. He’s never met Sock.

Anderson has Albot first up, who could be a little dangerous. If Anderson shows up motivated as usual though, I think he’ll escape. The winner gets either Adrian Mannarino or qualifier Ricardas Berankis. The two have split four career meetings with Mannarino getting both his wins on outdoor hard courts. As long as Anderson doesn’t get caught flat out of the gates, this should set up to be a winnable quarter for him. The fifth seed is 3-1 against Mannarino and 1-0 against Berankis. I fancy Anderson in this quarter with a look to Chung as the unseeded player who could cause some upsets. An unseeded player has made the semifinals every year that this tournament has been played on hard courts.

Quarter #3 Seeds
(3) Dominic Thiem: 7-1 (W – 2016)
(6) Juan Martin Del Potro: 1-1

Breakdown
This might be the toughest quarter of the tournament with dangerous floaters like Kei Nishikori, Denis Shapovalov, David Ferrer and Andrey Rublev. An earlier than expected loss for Thiem in Rio last week might be good for him this week. The Austrian won the title here in 2016 and made the quarters last year. His first round match against qualifier Cameron Norrie is likely to afford him a winning start. Round two will be very tough against either Nishikori or Shapovalov. This is a great litmus test for Nishikori with the young Canadian with the potential to push him.

The other half features Del Potro who lost to Frances Tiafoe during Big Foe’s 1st ATP title run in Delray Beach. DelPo didn’t look top notch, so he will need to improve this week if he’s going to be a factor. He opens against Mischa Zverev, who has lost six of eight this year. The winner gets either David Ferrer or Andrey Rublev. The “random” draw pits those two against each other for the second time this year. The Russian beat Ferrer in five sets at the Australian Open. Ferrer has struggled for wins with four straight losses. The Spaniard has dropped his opener in three straight tournaments.

I think all eyes should be on Nishikori this week. He does have a tough path, but he’s 2-0 against Thiem and has beaten Del Potro in two of their last three meetings. He needs a quick start against Shapovalov, but could curry that win into a nice run. DelPo is the other guy I like here.

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Alexander Zverev: 0-0
(8) John Isner: 0-2

Breakdown
This quarter could get blown up early. Zverev opens with Steve Johnson who is coming off his best run in nearly a year. Sascha hasn’t played a ton of tournament tennis this year and this is his Acapulco debut. There’s a possibility that he could be out early. Either way, the winner of this first round match will be in decent shape in round two. Delray Beach runner-up Peter Gojowczyk or wild card Lucas Gomez is the foe. Gojo will have to contend with the championship loss hangover. Gomez is a 22-year old Mexican who is just 1-9 all-time as this level. He may not be the one to KO Gojo, but you’d fancy Sascha or Stevie J to make the quarters in this spot.

The other half is led by John Isner. I laid it out in the Eliminati that Ryan Harrison has every reason to feel like he can beat Isner in round one, despite the lopsided head-to-head. The survivor of that All-American first rounder gets the survivor of the Rio title rematch with Diego Schwartzman and Fernando Verdasco playing again in round one. It is often difficult to repeat success against the same opponent, but Verdasco had a long week playing singles and doubles. Diego should parlay that Rio title into at least an opening round win and this quarter could actually open up for him if he can keep the ball rolling.

The Pig-nosticator

Each tournament previewed, the Pig-nosticator will list out @tennispig‘s picks to sizzle and fizzle for the week. Don’t forget that if something you peruse through in the preview provides you with something helpful – a visit to the Tip Jar would be kindly appreciated.

Sizzle
Kei Nishikori
Kevin Anderson

Fizzle
Alexander Zverev
John Isner

AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO …

You always have to believe that a healthy Rafael Nadal is in it to win it, but this is a stacked field with Rafa coming off a month without playing a competitive match. I’ll look elsewhere for the champ this week considering the top seed’s troubles in even getting to the final since Acapulco went to hard courts. Anderson seems logical as an option given good form and good history here. Keep eyes out for both Kei Nishikori and Hyeon Chung among the unseeded players. Both appear healthy and Nishikori especially seems like it’s just a matter of time before he gets back into the title mix.

Doubles Draw Preview

Seeds
1. Kubot-Melo: 0-1
2. Marach-Pavic: 0-0
3. Murray-Soares: 4-0 (W – 2017)
4. Bryans: 0-0

Top Half Breakdown
Kubot-Melo and the Bryans lead the top half. Since making the Aussie Open quarterfinals, Kubot and Melo have not won back-to-back matches in either Rotterdam or Rio. They have a potential landmine in the opening round with Americans Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock as their opponents. Sock teamed up with Jackson Withrow to take home the doubles crowns in Delray Beach last week. Harrison-Sock have teamed up seven times before, but not since 2014. You would expect the chemistry of Kubot-Melo to win out, but this won’t be easy. The winner gets the survivor between Alexander Sascha Zverev battling Marc and Feliciano Lopez. The Zverevs are 0-1 this year, while Team Lopez is 1-3 this year. Kubot-Melo really need to turn up here and make a run in with a winnable draw.

The other half with the Bryans will see the American twins battle Fabrice Martin and Franko Skugor. Chemistry again could be a key here with Martin-Skugor not havinh paired up since 2013. The Bryans are only 1-2 since the Australian Open, so they need to get going quick in round one. If they win, they get a shot against either Santiago Gonzalez and Julio Peralta or Rio champions David Marrero and Fernando Verdasco. The Spanish duo beat them last week in Rio in a super tie break. On hard courts, it will be interesting to see if the result is reversed. This could fall to the seeds, but keep an eye on the Marrero-Verdasco v Gonzalez-Peralta winner as a dark horse.

Bottom Half Breakdown
Marach-Pavic return to the court for the first time since suffering loss #1 of 2018 in the Rotterdam final to Pierre Hugues-Herbert and Nicolas Mahut. Outside of that loss, it’s been a blistering start to the year for the top ranked pair who have made the final of all three tournaments they have played – winning two titles. They open against qualifiers, so they should get through to the quarterfinls. There, they will face either Nikola Mektic and Alexander Peya or wild cards Marcelo Arevalo and Miguel Angel Reyes Varela. Mektic-Peya have made the finals in two of their last three tournaments and will be the tougher out.

Murray-Soares come back to Acapulco as the defending champions and off a semifinal showing in Rio last week. Their opener comes against the mish mosh pairing of Hyeon Chung and Denis Shapovalov. The winner gets either Ben McLachlan and Nicholas Monroe or Marcelo Demoliner and Sam Querrey. McLachlan has continued his solid doubles play that we saw in Melbourne, but it’s been with Hugo Nys. Switching partners to Monroe will challenge him to find some quick chemistry. If they do, they could be a sleeper team to watch. Otherwise, this could wind up being Murray-Soares vs Marach-Pavic in the semifinals. Marach-Pavic have a win over them already this season.

The Pig-nosticator

Sizzle
Marach-Pavic
Kubot-Melo

Fizzle
Bryans

AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO …

The bottom half of this draw looks as if it could produce the champion this week. The two seeded pairs in Marach-Pavic and Murray-Soares have form and history here to make deep runs possible. If you’re looking for an unseeded duo to join the lengthy history of unseeded duos doing work here – look to Marrero-Verdasco and perhaps McLachlan-Monroe. This is a chance for a team to grab momentum heading into the Indian Wells-Miami double in March. Kubot-Melo got hot in that stretch last year and have the draw to get through in Acapulco. I do think this one falls to one of the seeds. I’d love to see another Kubot-Melo vs Marach-Pavic showdown.

2018 Rio Open Preview

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Thiem Looking to Stay Hot

Dominic Thiem is back to defend the title as the Rio Open enters its fifth year of existence. The Austrian is 8-1 in his two trips to Rio and comes in hot after winning the Argentina Open on Sunday. Thiem is seeded second behind Marin Cilic. It’s an interesting choice for Cilic to play on clay this week. The Croat looks like he’s trying to grab some points this week and stay near the site of the Abierto Mexicano Telcel in Acapulco the following week. This will be Cilic’s debut in Rio. Rounding out the top four seeds are Pablo Carreno Busta and Albert Ramos-Vinolas. Carreno Busta made last year’s final and Ramos-Vinolas was a semifinalist in 2017. Both Spaniards have played each of the previous four years of the Rio Open.

The back half of the seeds also include plenty of Rio experience with Fabio Fognini slotting in as the #5. The Italian made the final in 2015, but has not progressed past round two the last two years. Diego Schwartzman is the sixth seed with a 3-3 record in Rio. Pablo Cuevas won the title in Rio in 2016 and is seeded 7th. Fernando Verdasco fills out the seeded field as the #8. This will be his first trip to Rio. Seeds have had a rough go of it early in Rio traditionally with five seeds losing in round one last year and four dropping out in 2016. In the first two years of the tournament in 2014 and 2015, two seeds lost their openers in each year.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at this week’s Eliminati, the players who could provide some early fireworks with some seeded upsets.

ELIMINATI

Thiago Monteiro
The home standing Brazilian starts against 7th seed Pablo Cuevas, who has beaten him all three times they have met previously. All came on clay. Monteiro has scored some nice wins already this year on clay though with a win over Gael Monfils in Quito and taking Ramos-Vinolas to a third set tie break in the same tournament. Cuevas lost his first clay match of the season to Monfils last week in Buenos Aires. He did win the title in Rio in 2016, but last year was a first round casualty. This might not be the biggest chance, but Monteiro made the quarters here in 2017 and scored perhaps his biggest win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in round one in Rio in 2016. There’s a chance he elevates his game against Cuevas for the upset.

Thomaz Bellucci
Even though Bellucci is 0-4 against Fabio Fognini, it’s still Fognini, so you never know what he’s going to bring this week. Fognini’s first match since the Australian Open came in Buenos Aires last week and it was a straight sets loss to Leonard Mayer. Bellucci is working his way back after being suspended at the start of the season. He is just 1-2 on the season, but scored that first win in Buenos Aires last week and took Diego Schwartzman to three sets before losing. Bellucci scored a nice upset of Kei Nishikori last year in round one in Rio and he’s proven a tough out at this tournament.

Leonardo Mayer
Another one where the head-to-head doesn’t say that Mayer has much chance. He’s 0-3 against 8th seed Fernando Verdasco. They haven’t played since 2014 however and Verdasco has never played in Rio. Mayer made the quarters in Buenos Aires last week, beating Fognini and taking Monfils to three sets. The draw back is that Mayer is 0-2 in his career in Rio and has not been here since 2015. I still think is another one though that looks to be a competitive first rounder with upset potential.

Marco Cecchinato
The Italian is on this list simply because he matches up against Pablo Carreno Busta in round one. The Spaniard has had a rough go of it since making the U.S. Open semifinals last year. He’s lost his opener in eight of ten tournaments since that time. Cecchinato’s big problem? Winning at this level. He is just 3-26 at the ATP level, but all four wins have come on clay. I think it’s a long shot even with Carreno Busta’s struggles, but it’s at least a dartboard shot because of those struggles.

Singles Draw Preview

Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Marin Cilic: 0-0
(6) Diego Schwartzman: 3-3

Breakdown
This is an interesting quarter with Cilic playing for the first time in Rio. I’m not sure what to make of his intentions for the week and getting qualifier Carlos Berlocq in round one could be interesting. That match play on the surface could give Berlocq an early edge. Cilic won their previous encounter way back in 2011 in Rome on dirt. The survivor could have a very tough second round engagement, but it’s also an iffy proposition in guessing with Gael Monfils. Monfils opens against Horacio Zeballos. La Monf improved on his Quito quarterfinal with a semifinal in Buenos Aires, but was woeful against Thiem in the semis (6-2, 6-1). If Monfils is already tired from playing back-to-back touraments, a third straight might not be a good spot for him. Zeballos could definitely take advantage. Just in case – Monfils has beat Cilic twice in two meetings, both on hard surface. Cilic is 2-0 against Zeballos on clay, but both were tough matches.

In the other half, Schwartzman might pick up the pieces. He opens against Casper Ruud, whom he thumped on straights in January at the Australian Open. I don’t think clay makes it any easier for Ruud to reverse that result. The winner will battle either Jiri Vesely or Federico Delbonis. Vesely and Delbonis have only faced off at the ATP level once and it was a Delbonis win on hard courts in Miami. They have met twice on the Challenger circuit though with Vesely winning both times, including the Prostejov Challenger in 2017. Delbonis has better form on clay, making the Buenos Aires’ semifinals last week. He has made the quarters twice in Rio, while Vesely is 0-1.

There are tough match-ups for Cilic around every corner in this quarter. The top seed has only won this tournament once and I don’t think that changes. Schwartzman looks like the likely beneficiary, although the Vesely-Delbonis winner has every chance to sneak out of this segment too. At least one unseeded player has made the semifinals every year and twice have been involved in the final.

Quarter #2 Seeds
(4) Albert Ramos-Vinolas: 5-4
(7) Pablo Cuevas: 8-3 (W – 2016)

Breakdown
This quarter looks difficult to predict. Ramos-Vinolas is the lead seed and brings decent form. He made the Quito final to start this clay swing in South America and then predictably was an early casualty the week after in Buenos Aires. He opens with Rogerio Dutra Silva. The Brazilian can be tricky, but I think a full week of rest should have ARV good to start. The survivor there gets a crack at either Guillermo Garcia-Lopez or Nicolas Jarry. Both have made their quarterfinals in their lone clay action this season with GGL’s looking a bit more impressive in Buenos Aires with a win over Carreno Busta. Jarry is a talent on this surface though, he’s just yet to prove it at the ATP level.

In the bottom half, Cuevas opens against Monteiro. As I laid out above, I do think there’s a shot for an upset in that one. The winner contends with Guido Pella or qualifier Corentin Moutet. Moutet is an intriguing 18-year-old from France who scored a couple of wins in Quito. He won’t be an easy out after getting some match play in conditions in Rio. Cuevas is hit or miss here for me, so this quarter could really open up if he loses early.

Quarter #3 Seeds
(3) Pablo Carreno Busta: 5-4
(5) Fabio Fognini: 8-4

Breakdown
There is a lot of talent in this quarter, but also a lot of inconsistency. Carreno Busta looked like he was ready to put the nightmare end to 2017 behind him after a fourth round run at the Australian Open. Two opening losses on clay later and it’s anybody’s guess what he will do each week. He’s now lost his first match in eight of the ten tournaments that he’s played since making the U.S. Open semifinals. PCB opens with qualifier Mario Cecchinato. The Spaniard beat him at a clay Challenger in 2015 and might be able to grab a win in this spot. Surprise Buenos Aires finalist Aljaz Bedene will have to cope with the quick turnaround and championship hangover against Adrian Haider-Maurer in round one. That makes him a prime pick to lose early except that Haider-Maurer hasn’t won an ATP main draw match since Beijing in 2015.

The other half sees Fognini open with Bellucci. Again, even with the lopsided head-to-head, I do think the home standing Brazilian is going to have a shot to win. Fognini is boom or bust just about every week he plays. He’s been good at avoiding early upsets in Rio though, so that is a plus for round one at least. The winner there gets Tennys Sandgren or qualifier Robert Carballes Baena. Sandgren got smoked in Buenos Aires qualies last week. It was his first match since Melbourne though, so look for some improvement this week. He’s not bad on dirt. RCB was a shock winner in Quito earlier in the month, but lost in Buenos Aires the following week in his opener.

If a seed gets through, Fognini is the obvious better choice over Carreno Busta. This definitely could be a quarter though where an unseeded player makes some noise even with perhaps some less shiny options. Bellucci might seem far fetched, but keep an eye on him. The RCB-Sandgren winner is the definite second look at an unseeded X-factor.

Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Dominic Thiem: 8-1 (W – 2017)
(8) Fernando Verdasco: 0-0

Breakdown
No worries for me for Thiem on fatigue this week. His Buenos Aires run was comfortable with all four wins in straight sets and a couple of them total demolition jobs. Thiem begins with Dusan Lajovic whom he has beaten three times on clay, including here last year. A win gets Thiem a date against the winner behind Gerald Melzer and Pablo Andujar. Melzer beat Andujar in their only ATP meeting, but also has another win at the Challenger level over him. Andujar hasn’t won an ATP level match since Doha in 2016.

Verdasco has the tough opener against Leonardo Mayer. The winner advances to play either Victor Estrella Burgos or Nicolas Kicker. VEB flipped to hard courts to play New York last week after going 1-1 in Quito. Kicker made the quarters in Rio last year out of qualifying. This is a tougher draw, but he could be an intriguing quarterfinal sleeper in this part of the draw. If he can get past VEB, watch for him to give Verdasco or Mayer a pretty good match. The one bit of intrigue here would be a quarterfinal clash between Thiem and Verdasco. The Spaniard is 2-0 against Thiem, but neither meeting has come on clay. That could be a neutralizer for the second seed to grab his first win against Verdasco.

The Pig-nosticator

Each tournament previewed, the Pig-nosticator will list out @tennispig‘s picks to sizzle and fizzle for the week. Don’t forget that if something you peruse through in the preview provides you with something helpful – a visit to the Tip Jar would be kindly appreciated.

Sizzle
Dominic Thiem

Fizzle
Marin Cilic
Pablo Carreno Busta

AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO …

Given Thiem’s form, he seems a smart choice. The conditions in Rio can often dictate a lot with very humid and warm weather at this time of year. That generally leans itself to guys who have shown the ability to adapt to this weather. Thiem is one, Fognini and Cuevas are two others with good histories in Rio. Among the unseeded players, Delbonis could be one to watch – if he can get out of round one against Vesely.

Doubles Draw Preview

Seeds
1.Kubot-Melo (2017 QF)
2. Murray-Soares (2017 SF)
3. Cabal-Farah (2014,2016 W)
4. Gonzalez-Peralta (Rio Debut)

Top Half Breakdown
Kubot-Melo had a difficult draw last week in Rotterdam as they lost to Ivan Dodig and Rajeev Ram in their second match. This week, they will again have a tough draw. Clay wasn’t great for this duo last year with a record of 8-4. Four of those came in a Madrid title run. They have qualifiers to begin with, but their quarterfinal match will be rough. They will face either Thomas Belluci and Andre Sa or Buenos Aires champions Andres Molteni and Horacio Zeballos. The top seed has never won this tournament or even been involved in the final. With this draw, I don’t expect that will change in 2018.

The other quarter in this half features the two-time champs, Juan-Sebastien Cabal and Robert Farah. They have made the final three of the four previous years and come off a finals run on clay in Buenos Aires. This back-to-back swing in Buenos Aires & Rio has been very good to them. They open against Nikola Mektic and Alexander Peya. On clay, that should favor the third seeds. The winner advances to play either Pella-Schwartzman or Vasilevski/Podlpnik-Castillo. Those two teams squared off at the Australian Open with Vasilevski and Podlpnik-Castillo winnning in three sets. That’s a toss-up and I think either will provide a stern test for Cabal-Farah in the quartefinals.

Bottom Half Breakdown
Murray-Soares are back for the first time since their second round exit at the Australian Open. They get Brazilian wild cards Fabiana de Paula and Thiago Monteiro. That should afford them a winning start. The quarterfinals would see them against either Roman Jebavy and Leonardo Mayer or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Albert Ramos-Vinolas. It’s a mish mosh pairing for both. Ordinarily, I’d look to go against Murray-Soares on clay, but I’m not sure that any of these other teams have big aspirations in doubles. I’d keep an eye on Jebavy-Mayer. Jebavy is a pretty decent doubles guy and Mayer can be good on his day. If they have chemistry, perhaps they can ruffle some feathers.

The other quarter sees seeds Gonzalez-Peralta open against Fabio Fognini and Marc Lopez. The fourth seeds haven’t had much luck in 2018, going 2-4 overall with first-up losses in three of four tournaments. Fognini is underrated in doubles and Lopez is usually fairly solid. Again, its a chemistry thing as to whether they can put it together for the upset. Given that, perhaps the seeds survive round one. The winner gets the survivor between Carreno Busta and Cuevas versus Monfils and Marcelo Demoliner. PCB and Cuevas have previous time together in doubles. If healthy, they are threats in this draw.

The Pig-nosticator

Sizzle
Cabal-Farah
Carreno Busta-Cuevas

Fizzle
Kubot-Melo

AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO …

Unseeded teams won the first two versions of the Rio Open, but it has been seeds winning the last two years. As I mentioned earlier though, the top seeded team has yet to be involved in the doubles final. I don’t think Kubot-Melo are going to change that with a difficult draw. Cabal-Farah are 13-2 all-time at this event with three finals appearances and two titles. This is a tougher draw, but on clay, they still might be the best team here. If this goes to an unseeded team, keep your eyes on the Buenos Aires champs Molteni-Zeballos or Carreno Busta-Cuevas. The team that could really sneak through and win despite not being their best on dirt is Murray-Soares, so it could come down to them or Cabal-Farah.

2018 ATP Doubles Preview

KONTINEN-PEERS

Kontinen-Peers Open New Season Looking For More

2017 ended just as 2016 did with Henri Kontinen and John Peers crowned as the doubles champions at the ATP Nitto Finals. And for the second straight year, it was not enough for Kontinen and Peers to claim the year-end #1 ranking. That feat went to Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo in 2017. The top dogs on the doubles tour ended the season with six titles, three which came at Masters 1000 events and the cherry on top at Wimbledon. Kontinen-Peers wound up around 700 points behind Kubot-Melo, winning five titles including the Australian Open. They also added a Masters title in Shanghai to go along with the Aussie and Tour Finals as their three high profile titles.

Rounding out the top eight finishers in 2017 were Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares in third, Jean Julien-Rojer and Horia Tecau at #4, the Bryans at #5, Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut in sixth, Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers in 7th and Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison in 8th. Murray-Soares are back as a regular team again in 2018, already notching a win at the Qatar Open. This will be their third year as a pairing with a combined record of 87-39 through the first two years of their partnership. Altough they ended 2017 with the same number of doubles titles (3) that they captured in 2016, the season seemed more of a struggle for major success. Of course the bar was set high in 2016 when they won both the Australian Open and the U.S. Open. Last year, they won two of their three titles on grass in Stuttgart and at Queen’s Club in London.

Rojer-Tecau return for their fifth year together. 2017 was a poor one by ther usual standards, but they got hot near the end of the year to get to the 40 win mark for the third time in four years. They would take hom four titles with their best run of form coming in back-to-back tournaments, winning in Winston-Salem and then claiming their 2nd Slam together at the U.S. Open.

Mahut-Herbert will be teaming up for the fourth year, although 2017 did mark the least amount of matches played together at 38. A lot of that can be attributed to both still pushing their singles play, which kept them apart for some tournaments. Overall, the season was quite the roller coaster. They did claim three Masters titles, including an impressive run back-to-back in Montreal and Cincinnati. At Slams however, the French duo flopped. They lost their opening round matches both at the French Open and U.S. Open, an flamed out in round two at Wimbledon. Their best run came at the Australian Open, where they made the quarterfinals.

BRYANS

The Bryans, Mike and Bob, are back for a 20th season together on tour. The American twins played their first complete season together in 1999 and saw a remarkable run of 40 win seasons end at 19 last year. They were just a win shy at 39-21. The Bryans recorded their lowest title tally at two in 2017 since their first years on tour, when they went without titles in 1999 and 2000. The twins, who turn 40 in April, also went a third straight year without a Grand Slam title. They did make the Australian Open final in 2017 and also scored a semifinal berth at the U.S. Open. Both the French and Wimbledon were flops though as they lost in the second round of both tournaments.

Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers have been chosen to go with different partners at least to begin 2018. Dodig is teaming with Fernando Verdasco with that tandem scoring a win in Doha this week. Verdasco may be more well known for his singles accumen, but the Spaniard has been a fairly regular doubles player as well with seven career titles. Granollers is partnering with Fabio Fognini. Granollers has gone on record saying that singles is his priority to start 2018. It seems like there is some room for a Dodig-Granollers reunion perhaps later in the season depending on commitments.

Venus and Harrison have also split and there is not expected to be a reunion with Venus choosing to go with South African Raven Klaasen as his regular partner this season. Venus-Harrison were one of the better doubles stories of 2017. They first teamed on clay in Budapest and then a month later with unseeded champions at Roland Garros. They followed that up with a quarterfinal run at Wimbledon and wound up with the last spot for the Tour Finals losing their openers in nine of the 15 tournaments they participated in together. Venus is teaming with Marcelo Demoliner this week in Brisbane, but is expected to switch to Klaasen beginning with the ASB Classic in Venus’ homeland, New Zealand.

NESTOR

Nestor Hoping to Finish With a Flourish

Canadian Daniel Nestor has announced that 2018 will be his final year on tour. The 45-year-old has stated that he’ll throw in the towel on an illustrious doubles career either after this year’s Rogers Cup or the U.S. Open. Nestor has 91 career doubles titles, although he did not win one in 2017. That ended a ridiculous 23 year run in which he had won at least one doubles title at the ATP level. Nestor completed the career Grand Slam in 2008, when he won at Wimbledon. He has a dozen career Grand Slam doubles titles, with eight coming in men’s play and four in mixed. His last Slam title came in 2012 at the French Open.

Nestor said last year’s slumping season in which he went just 21-30 helped make his decision to call it quits this season an easy one. Nestor looks likely to play partner roulette again this season. He’s teamed up with Philipp Oswald to open play at the Qatar Open, where to lost to Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic in straights. The Canadian has plans to team with Donald Young next week, before switching to Jonathan Erlich for Australian Open play. Regardless of how his storied career plays out, Nestor will always have one distinction that cannot be taken away from him – he was the first player ever to win 1,000 matches on the ATP World Tour in doubles. He recorded that record setter back in January 2016 in Sydney.

New Pairings Looking to Provide Sparks For Veteran Players

As usual, there is a lot of partner swapping taking place to start 2018 and as usual, don’t expect that the changes won’t continue in the early months as players jockey for the right fit. Among the new teams announced for the new season are Americans Rajeev Ram and Brian Baker. Ram announced his retirement from singles competition last season and will have a new partner for the first time since 2014. Ram teamed up with Klaasen from 2015-2017 with the duo winning five titles, the biggest of which came last year at Indian Wells. Baker seems to have found more of a niche in doubles the last few years after suffering through injury riddled singles seasons. He’s gone 52-25 in doubles play the last two years. He had a very successful partnership with Nikola Mektic in 2017 with that pair winning titles in Memphis and Budapest. The teaming with Ram could be one to watch this season with both committed to doubles play now after up and down singles’ careers.

Nenad Zimonjic continues the doubles grind at 41. This year, he’ll team with Florin Mergea. The duo lost their debut to Dodig-Verdasco in Doha. Mergea split most of his 2017 between Dominic Inglot and Aisam Ul-Haq Qureshi. He finishes just 15-16 on the season. Zimonjic was 25-27 with an astonishing 20 different partners in 2017. The Serb did win his first title since 2014, while teamed up witk Viktor Troicki in Sofia. Certainly having a stable partner could help Zimonjic this season.

PAES

The man of so many partners we’ve lost count also is starting the new season with yes, a new partner! Leander Paes entered 2018 with fellow-Indian Purav Raja announced as his regular partner. The duo lost their opener in Pune, but appeared to have some chemistry while going 12-7 in 2017 when they paired up. They won back-to-back Challenger titles in Knoxville and Champaign to end the season. Paes did have eleven other partners in 2017 and failed to win a title at the ATP level for the second straight season.

The 44-year old will hope that Raja can help end that. Raja had been paired with Divij Sharan pretty regularly since 2013 with the all-Indian duo winning two ATP titles in that span through August 2017 when Raja switched to teaming with Paes. Paes has at least talked a good game, sounding like a man who wants to stick more to playing with the same partner for a good chunk of the season. Paes says he expects it may take a bit more time for the pair to fully connect and start reeling off solid results at the ATP level, but he thinks it is the right fit.

The other partnership to keep an eye on in 2018 should be Rohan Bopanna and Eduoard Roger-Vasselin. Bopanna partnered the most with Pablo Cuevas last season, winning a title with Cuevas in Vienna near the end of the season. He also won with Cuevas in Monte Carlo and to start the season in Chennai with Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan. The pairing is in action this week in Pune before Bopanna and ERV connect. Roger-Vasselin was another doubles nomad in 2017, pairing with Daniel Nestor to open the year. He would also team with Frenchmen Fabrice Martin, Nicolas Mahut and Julien Benneteau as well. The Benneteau-ERV pairing produced his lone title on 2017 in Metz along with a trip to the U.S. Open quarters.

Bopanna has been a steady contributor the last few seasons with seven titles, including a Masters win each of the last two season in clay. Roger-Vasselin is no slouch with 14 career doubles titles. He has won at least one doubles title at the ATP level in six straight seasons, including the French Open titles with Benneteau in 2014. This duo has the making of one that should be a threat in the Top 10 and perhaps pushing for a spot in London.

Under-The-Radar Returnees

Two teams catch my eye for 2018. One has been a steady pairing the past few seasons, while the other burst onto the scene with some big results in 2017. Let’s start with old reliable, the Colombians. That is Juan-Sebastien Cabal and Robert Farah. These two first teamed up in 2010 and have been regular partners since that time. 2017 was another steady 30+ win season for the duo, their fourth straight season to do so and fifth since 2012. They won two titles together on clay with Cabal adding a third with Treat Huey later in the season.

Overall, the Colombians have won ten titles together with eight of them coming on dirt. Generally, they have been at their best during the early South American swing on clay, winning in Buenos Aires twice and in Rio de Janeiro twice. They are not completely inept on other surfaces, but their results are definitely diminished on hard courts and grass. Still, you can expect them to provide more of the same in 2018 – a couple of titles and competitive matches. I’d expect them to be on the fringe of the top ten again. They finished 12th last season.

Now a team that looks very much sink or swim in 2018 are Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic. They finished 2017 just out of the running for a spot in London, finishing 450 points behind Harrison-Venus in 9th place. They won just one title together at the tail end of 2017 in Stockholm, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. They paired for the first time in Miami in March, but really didn’t become a factor until the grass court swing. There, Marach-Pavic hit their stride with three straight finals appearances in Stuttgart, Antalya and at Wimbledon.

Their Wimbledon final against Kubot and Melo was an instant classic. They would lose 13-11 in the fifth set, one round after they pulled out a stunning 15-13 fifth set win in the semifinals against Nikola Mektic and Franko Skugor. The remainder of their season fizzled out with an injury to Marach ending things early at the Tour Finals after a round robin loss to the Bryans. They’ve kicked off their season in Doha with a couple of wins so far. The 37-year-old Marach brings the experience with 17 career doubles titles and 21 other doubles finals’ appearances. Pavic is a young player with a big serve and great movement that really seemed ti ignite this partnership. He’s already won nine doubles titles and partnered with two others (Dodig,Inglot) in 2017 to win three combined doubles titles.

If Marach stays healthy and their chemistry continues, they could well be in position for another shot at London. They will need to prove themselves on other surfaces this year, so a quick start on hard courts would be a big boost.

The Pig-Nosticator

So with all of that said, who do I look to be in the running for those eight spots in London this season? Here’s a look, plus my own goal(s) for these duos to improve on their 2017 results or start their new partnerships off well.

1. Kontinen-Peers
A big fat duh here to the two-time defending Nitto ATP Finals champions. They’ve won ten titles combined in the past two seasons and despite some lulls each season, they’ve always done plenty to secure a spot.

Goal: Win their second Grand Slam. For all their success, they have just the one Slam title in Australia in 2016. Melbourne seems like their best bet again as they have made the final two straight years. They’ve been in the mix at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open with semifinal showings at both last year. They showed the consistency outside of a first round flop at Roland Garros, now they need to cash in with the hardware.

2. Kubot-Melo
This was the best team consistently for me in 2017 with the two 30-somethings finishing as the top duo in the rankings, around 700 points better than Kontinen-Peers. Their 49-18 mark lets you in on their proclivity for sniffing trophies last season. The pair won six titles and made four other finals. They did alot of that at the biggest tournaments.

Goal: Better Grand Slam results. The one area that they struggled outside of their Wimbledon win, was producing consistently good results at Slams in 2017. They didn’t make it past the second round in Paris or New York and were out in round three in Melbourne. The good thing is that leaves plenty of points to gain in 2018 with better results. I think they’ll need those if they want to be in the running for #1 again.

3. Murray-Soares
Another duh right? They’ve won 40+ matches in two consecutive seasons with six titles together. There was still a disappointing feel to 2017 for this tandem though with just one of their six finals appearances coming at a Masters event or Grand Slam (CincinnatI). In 2016, they won two Slams and made two Masters finals. They did make two Slam quarters last season in paris and New York, but were first round upset victims in Melbourne and second round losers in London.

Goal: Bigger results at the bigger tournaments. In 2017, they combined for a 21-13 record at Masters tournaments and Grand Slams. Their first year together in 2016, they were 28-11. They need to get to more finals, more consistently.

4. The Bryans
Even though they’ve been falling out of the Grand Slam mix as far as winning the last few seasons, the Americans still have shown they have enough in the tank to have a shot at adding to their record 16 Grand Slam victories. In making the Australian Open final last season, they ran their streak to 14 season in which they have made at least one Slam final.

Goal: Consistency. For a team accustomed to being at the top of the doubles game, the Bryans struggled with early losses too much in 2017. In 12 of their 21 tournaments played, they failed to win back-to-back matches. In order to stay within the top eight, they’ll need to improve on that number.

5. Bopanna-ERV
I really like the potential of this team. Bopanna has been a consistent player, but has lacked a permanent partnership that has yielded top results. He still found himself in two Masters finals and two quarterfinals last season. The one big stopping point was at Slams, where his best finish was the round of 16 at the French Open. In his career, he’s played in just one Grand Slam final and that came in 2010 at the U.S. Open with Qureshi. Roger-Vasselin has been two a pair of Grand Slam finals, winning the French and losing the final at Wimbledon in 2016. I think with the Frenchman focused on doubles, there is a chance for this pairing to be special.

Goal: Push the top teams. I don’t think they necessarily need to win a ton of titles to have a chance to make some noise this season. What they need to do is show that they have the chemistry to push teams like Kontinen-Peers, Kubot-Melo and Murray-Soares. If they do, the wins will come and they should be in the mix for a spot in London.

6. Venus-Klaasen
These are two solid doubles players who simply need to find a rhythm together I think to make an immediate impact. We’ll get to see if that happens in Auckland next week. Venus has been involved in 14 career doubles finals with seven titles, while Klaasen has 25 finals appearances with 13 titles. Klaasen has done that with seven different partners. For me, that speaks to his quality and ability to mesh with his partner.

Goal: Early success. The ASB Classic in Auckland was a great jumping off point for Venus and Mate Pavic in 2016. They won their first title together in that tournament and had three total by the end of February. 2017 champions Marcin Matkowski and Aisam Ul-Haq Qureshi won in Auckland the first time they paired up, so there is some historical success for newly minted teams. Toss in that Klaasen won there in 2015 with Leander Paes and that stop in NZ could yield big things to catalyze this duo.

7. Rojer-Tecau
Up until late in 2017, Rojer-Tecau looked like they were on their way to being a very middling team. It’s funny how a Grand Slam title changes things. Their finish to the season rekindled hope that the former world number ones can still get it done in their fifth year together.

Goal: Avoid prolonged slumps. Rojer-Tecau got mired in a slump early in the season that took them a long time to dig out of as they went just 6-5 before winning the titles in Dubai in early March. After that, it took them nearly three months to make another final in Geneva in late May. Then it was nearly three months until the next in Winston-Salem in late August, so you see the trend. During their two best seasons in 2014 and 2015, they found success much more consistently. A return to that sort of form would boost their odds of making the fieled in London in 2018.

8. The Mystery Team
In recent years, there has almost always been one surprise team to that comes out of nowhere to make this field. Maybe Bopanna-ERV are that team, but I have a feeling it could be one that I haven’t touched on or one that has not even formed yet. We saw that last year with Ryan Harrison and Michael Venus. 2016 brought us Team Lopez with Marc and Feliciano making the field as a new tandem that surprised many by winning the French Open. 2015 brought Matkowski and Zimonjic into the field of eight in London, despite not pairing up for the first time until March.

So one of the spots in London could fall to a relative unknown or unexpected squad. I think the Ram-Baker partnership might have some possibility of being in the mix or perhaps if Dodig and Verdasco stick together long enough, they might make a run. Dodig has made five straight trips to the Tour Finals with two different partners (Melo,Granollers). Keep an eye on who he plays with the most this season.

AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO ….

As always, when Grand Slams roll around – keep your eyes on the unseeded teams. Time and time again, they spring surprises on us. We’ve seen an unseeded team win at least one Grand Slam in each of the last four seasons. Down under, the surprise could be Lleyton Hewitt teaming with Sam Groth in Groth’s final tournament before retiring. As for some other random predictions for 2018, I’ll go with the Bryan Brothers winning the U.S. Open titles and then one of the brothers (Bob) retiring from the game altogether. Donald Young will become more well known for his doubles play then in singles.

… and Bethanie Mattek-Sands will return to tour in 2018 to rekindle “Team Bucie” with Lucie Safarova at some point. That in turn, should ramp up my interest in WTA doubles again which will be missing Martina Hingis due to retirement and Sania Mirza due to injury as 2018 gets underway.

The Doubles DL: Loaded Field in Cincinnati

doubles-dl

Herbert-Mahut Make Big Move

It’s been a rather mediocre season for the French duo of Pierre Hugues-Herbert and Nicolas Mahut. Still, two big wins now have them in the thick of the race for a spot in the ATP World Tour Finals. Herbert-Mahut topped Rohan Bopanna and Ivan Dodig 6-4, 3-6, 10-6 to take the Rogers Cup doubles titles. It was just their second title this year, but the other also came in a Masters-level event in Rome this Spring. The win in Montreal catapulted the Frenchies five spots in the rankings and put them into fourth place. They now stand just a few hundred points behind the Bryans for third, but also just 15 points ahead of Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares who dropped down to the 5th spot.

PHHMahut

Slotting in behind Murray-Soares in 6th are Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram who moved up a spot from last week. Klaasen-Ram had a semifinal run in Montreal to give them the slim five point lead over Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison who stand in 7th. The French Open champs continue to struggle for wins in non-Slams, although they did end a four match losing skid on Monday in Cincinnati. Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers dropped down to the final spot in the race for London at #8. They will drop out of the race with Dodig partnering regularly with Rohan Bopanna at least through the U.S. Open. Bopanna-Dodig are ranked 22nd with just three tournaments played, but one big title could push them into the London conversation.

The top three spots were unchanged with Marcelo Melo and Lukasz Kubot remaning as the #1 team despite losing their opener in Montreal. They hold a 1,710 point lead over Henri Kontinen and John Peers. The Bryans remained in third, still well behind the #2 spot by 1,295 points. Unlike singles where many of the top players are missing in Cincinnati this week, the top seven men’s doubles teams are all in action at the Western & Southern Open this week with more positional jockeying likely ahead of the U.S. Open.

Cincinnati Features Battle For Overall #1 Ranking

Outside of the team races, there is also an interesting race for the #1 overall doubles player shaping up on the ATP tour. Marcelo Melo assumed the top spot in early July after winning the Wimbledon titles with Kubot. He took that spot from Henri Kontinen who had moved up to #1 overall with little fanfare in April despite Kontinen-Peers struggling at the time for positive results. Now in Cincinnati, it’s possible that Kontinen could recapture the #1 spot from Melo. Kontinen-Peers will again be the top seeds this week. After winning the Citi Open the week before, they were disappointing quarterfinal losers to Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic. Marach-Pavic look poised to get into the mix for London if they can secure a few wins this week.

Kubot-Melo will be seeded second and are in a rare spot where they have lost two straight matches after a 17 match win streak that started with the grass court swing. They were upset in their opener last week in Montreal by Fabrice Martin and Eduoard Roger-Vasselin with the top ranked team looking flat. Murray-Soares are seeded third in Cincy with the Bryans rounding out the top four seeds.

Western & Southern Preview

Play has already begun in Cincinnati with several doubles matches going down on Monday. So here is a look at the draw in progress with some quick thoughts on what could shake down in Cincinnati where there will be a different champion for the third straight year with the now defunct team of Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo winning here last year.

Kontinen-Peers Quarter (1)
It’s a tricky quarter for the top seeds with Marach-Pavic seeded 8th and placed in the other half of the quarter. Kontinen-Peers will open against Roberto Bautista Agut and David Ferrer, who beat Paolo Lorenzi and Albert Ramos-Vinolas in a super tiebreak on Monday. Marach-Pavic have a tougher get with Harrison and Venus as their first foes. Harrison and Venus beat Steve Johnson and Daniel Nestor in round one action 6-2, 6-3. Marach-Pavic were back together in Montreal for the first time since losing the Wimbledon final. Their chemistry was still there with an upset win over Kontinen-Peers before losing to the eventual champions, Herbert-Mahut.

Kontinen-Peers might be keen to get a shot at redemption against Marach-Pavic this week, but the quick conditions in Cincinnati will give the big game of Pavic a chance to shine again. Venus-Harrison could factor in as well after finally shaking off that losing streak, which makes this quarter really wide open.

Bryans Quarter (4)
Bob and Mike won’t be too happy to see Herbert-Mahut stuck in this quarter. The French duo beat them last week in Montreal and have now won all four career meetings between the two teams. The Bryans will face either Alexander Zverev and Leander Paes of the Spaniards, Marc and Feliciano Lopez. Team Lopez has been down this year, but contended two of the testiest Grand Slam matches of 2016 against the Bryans. They won both at Roland Garros and the French Open in three sets. They are just 8-14 together this season and have lost five straight. It will be an all-French opener on the other side with Herbert-Mahut battling Martin-ERV. Martin and Roger-Vasselin took down John Isner and Donald Young 10-6 in a super breaker to open on Monday.

This is another difficult quarter to predict with tough teams around every turn. You’d like to thnk Herbert-Mahut might be about to reel off a big win streak after last week, but their opener is tough. If they make it through that, then you like their chances although the Bryans have rarely been stopped short of the semifinals in Cincinatti.

Murray-Soares Quarter (3)
This might be the toughest quarter overall in a loaded field. Murray-Soares have been a bit up and down in the last month or so after winning two titles on grass early in June. Last week in Montreal, they dropped their opener to Gael Monfils and Benoit Paire. This week, they face Spaniards Fernando Verdasco and Pablo Carreno Busta. Both are excellent doubles players, so this will not be easy. Verdasco-PCB won their opener in Cincy against Dominic Thiem and Karen Khachanov. On the other side, 6th seeds Klaasen-Ram have a tough task as well with Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau as their first opponents. Rojer-Tecau defeated Jared Donaldson and Stefan Kozlov in straight sets on Monday. These two teams played once before back in 2015 when Klaasen-Ram prevailed 11-9 in a super tiebreak. Rojer-Tecau are a tough out, but have had problems beating top tier teams this season.

If this comes down to the two seeded teams, it could be one of the better matches of the tournament. Murray-Soares and Klaasen-Ram met four times last year with both teams winning twice. Three of the four matches went the distance. Give Klaasen-Ram a slight edge.

Kubot-Melo Quarter (2)
It’s been rare for Kubot-Melo to struggle for wins and a two match losing skid isn’t quite cause for alarm just yet. They do get a good early draw this week. They will face either Diego Schwartzman and Mischa Zverev or Nikola Mektic and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi. Mektic-Qureshi would certainly be the more problematic team if they win, but certainly a very winnable match still for the top ranked duo. On the other side of the quarter, 7th seeds Rohan Bopanna and Ivan Dodig should be afforded a chance to meet Kubot-Melo in the quarters. The 7th seeds take on either Jack Sock and Jackson Withrow or Juan-Sebastien Cabal and Fabio Fognini. The chemistry of Bopanna-Dodig should be enough to see them past either team.

This is one semifinal spot that definitely should fall to a seeded team. Bopanna-Dodig are dangerous and in rhythm after making the Rogers Cup final. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the title mix again this week in Cincy.

AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO …

Last week, I said it felt like we wouldn’t get another #1 vs #2 situation like we saw in the Citi Open final and this week again has that sort of feel to it. It’s a loaded field with a small draw, so that means tough matches almost every round for the seeds. For me, that also means more chances for upsets. If one of the top two teams is going to get to the final, I’d give a slight advantage to Kubot-Melo who have a slighty better draw over Kontinen-Peers. For me, Bopanna-Dodig and Marach-Pavic are the teams to watch this week as possible “outside” title contenders.

WTA: Makarova-Vesnina Take Over Top Spot

Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina have firmly established themselves as contenders to the throne as the WTA’s best team. The Russians won the Rogers Cup titles in Toronto last week and in doing so, moved past Martina Hingis and Yung Jan Chan for the top spot in the rankings. They now hold a 450 point lead of Hingis-Chan who lost in their second match last week in Canada. The newly minted number ones are the top seeds in Cincinnati this week. The Russians have won ten straight matches.

MAKVES

Hingis-Chan will be seeded second this week for the Western & Southern Open. Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycove serve as the third seeds. They made the semifinals in Toronto last week. Sania Mirze and Shuai Peng are slated in as the fourth seeds. Mirza’s disasterous recent run continued in Canada last week, where Peng was forced to withdraw due to a knee injury. The pair had won their opener at the Rogers Cup. Of late, Mirza’s partners have had trouble staying health with Yaroslava Shvedova, Coco Vandeweghe and Kirsten Flipkens all coming up injured while partnership with the former world #1.

Still waiting for that Hingis and Mirza reunion. Am I the only one who sees the sense it makes?